The public can derive enormous satisfaction from taking action against public worker misfeasance, malfeasance, nonfeasance or just plain nuisance, but that visceral satisfaction can be short-lived, whether you’re talking about ending “hack holidays” or even voting to recall public officials.
Sure, it was delicious when Beacon Hill eliminated irritating Suffolk County holidays like Evacuation Day (really celebrated as St. Patrick’s Day) and Bunker Hill Day. (Growing up in Boston, I also remember celebrating Flag Day in June!)
But look what happened this week on Evacuation Day. State workers will get an alternative day off later in the year. And that will cost. Plus, according to the Boston Globe, those who worked yesterday at City Hall in Revere will get two and a half times their regular pay for doing so. So, what did taxpayers gain?
The same can be asked in Miami, where, on Tuesday, 88 percent of those who went to the polls voted to recall the Miami-Dade County mayor and county commissioner. They were angry about a large property tax increase (imposed to prevent public employee layoffs) and the mayor’s push to spend hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for a new Florida Marlins stadium. The final straw was the mayor’s giving pay hikes to close aides and driving around in a sleek, expensive BMW 550i Grand Turismo sedan at taxpayers’ expense. (He apparently already had two Chevy Suburbans to use for official business.)
The recall petition was financed by a billionaire car dealer unhappy with the property tax increase. But it’s really the taxpayers who will foot the bill. A special election to replace the ousted Carlos Alvarez and Natacha Seijas will, according to The Miami Herald, cost between $4 million and $5 million. That, in addition to a similar amount spent to run the recall election, in which just 16 percent of voters turned out. And, writes columnist Fred Grimm, Alvarez would have had to leave next year due to term limits. Voters would have weighed in on Seijas in November, 2012.
Instant gratification has its place, especially when most people are feeling out of sorts in today’s economic climate and dollar costs aren’t all that matters. Recall may be appropriate in Wisconsin, for example. But, in Boston as in Miami-Dade, it may penny wise but pound foolish to throw the bums out or make the bums come in, if you don’t think through the consequences. Voters should weigh the costs of acting on their anger whenever righteous indignation leads to a demonstration of the power of the people.